Minnesota Public Radio
December 1, 2005
Legislative hearing raises
questions about MPCA, 3M relationship
By Lorna Benson
A Senate environmental committee heard
testimony again on Thursday on whether the MPCA is dragging its
feet on investigating perfluorinated chemical contamination from
3M operations. The compounds, known as PFCs, were used in the
production of stain-resistant and water-resistant products, including
Scotchgard. 3M doesn't make the chemicals anymore, but they are
found widely in the environment. They've been detected in East
Metro wells and in Mississippi river fish. Studies have linked
the PFCs to cancer in lab animals.
At the hearing, an MPCA research scientist
testified for the second time in a month that her employer is
not doing enough to protect Minnesotans who might be exposed to
St. Paul, Minn. — The last time Fardin Oliaei testified
before the Senate Environment Committee, she told lawmakers that
the MPCA had blocked her PFC research numerous times and reprimanded
her for supposedly dishonoring her colleagues. When she testified
this time, she told the committee that in addition to interference
from her bosses, she's also endured interference from 3M.
Oliaei described a meeting that she attended on April 26, 2005
with her managers and several representatives from 3M. She says
in that meeting she talked about her research and her desire to
take more samples that included studying fish in the Mississippi
River downstream from 3M's Cottage Grove production plant.
"The project manager of 3M, Mr. Santoro, very strongly objected
to my proposal and he was in fact angry and very clearly expressed
that 3M does not want me to the PCA to pursue this project,"
Oliaei says 3M's Michael Santoro told her that 3M was already
planning similar studies and that there was no point in duplicating
the work. It is MPCA policy to allow companies that are responsible
for contamination to take the lead on cleanup projects. In this
case, 3M has been in charge of hiring an independent company to
do the PFC contamination testing.
Oliaei says she does not think that policy is appropriate in
this case. But she says she didn't get any backup from her managers
"The managers were sitting there and with their quietness
I believe that they kind of confirmed Mr. Santoro's position and
it got to a point where I really feel lack of support from the
agency to the point that I express I don't know who is my boss
here," she said.
After the meeting Oliaei says her managers piled on needless
work and gave her short deadlines to present her work plan.
Oliaei's colleague Don Kriens, who testified on her behalf previously,
again backed up Oliaei's story under questioning from Committee
chair John Marty.
"Did you hear Mr. Santoro object to the study? Object to
PCA doing this study?" Marty asked.
"Yes I did," he replied. "He was rather quite
agitated. He strongly objected. He just made it quite clear that
he didn't want us to do the studies."
"The managers, the PCA people, did they comment on this?"
"Well what I recall was it was quiet, I think is the best
way to characterize it. And it felt awkward and I didn't want
Santoro coming in there and telling us what to do, so I just...
I remember I made comments then that MPCA has a right to do these
studies and that they were important and we need to do them,"
But MPCA manager Michael Kanner had a different interpretation
of the meeting with 3M.
The "bottom line"
"I think that the short time frame was a surprise and as
well I think probably for 3M, Santoro I think indicated that they
wanted to have the ability to take good samples," he said.
"I guess I'm more interested in why if some business is
coming in there and Mr. Kriens said it was unusual for it to happen
this way that you and other managers wouldn't say, 'hey wait a
minute! This is not an appropriate role for you. You're the regulated
industry, we're the regulator. We're the law enforcement in effect.
You can give us advice but you don't put pressure on our folks.
You don't try and talk them out of doing studies they think are
important,'" Marty said.
"I think the final bottom line is that we did the studies.
We supported the studies and all the work was done," Kanner
Oliaei disputed Kanner's account. She says her research was restricted
and in some cases blocked.
3M spokesman Bill Nelson, wasn't at the meeting in question,
but he says it was described to him as a "congenial business
"The only comment that we made was that all of the environmental
investigations taking place should be coordinated... the MPCA
has asked or looks to responsible parties to do investigations
and it was in that context that in terms of the work that 3M is
doing I think it would helpful to advance the whole body of science
that the work be coordinated," Nelson said.
Minnesota Pollution Control Agency Commissioner Cheryl Corrigan
turned down the committee's request to testify for the second
time. Corrigan, who is a former 3M employee, sent a letter to
the committee saying she has recused herself from all matters
involving 3M. Her deputy commissioner, Kristin Applegate, answered
questions on the agency's behalf.
Applegate told the committee that the dispute with Oliaei is
"difficult and unfortunate" for all involved, but that
it's wrong to conclude that the MPCA has not made the PFC contamination
issue a big priority. She says the agency has decided to focus
its efforts on likely contamination sources like dumps, rather
than widely testing for PFCs throughout the environment.
The last person to testify was Dale Case, a homeowner in Oakdale
who used to work for 3M as a chemist. Case told the committee
that he lives near one of the landfills contaminated with PFCs.
He told Applegate that if Commissioner Corrigan has recused herself
from this issue, then he assumes that she, as deputy commissioner,
is the next in line to hear his concerns.
Case told Applegate that he doesn't know if PFCs are to blame,
but he lost his wife to cancer less than two years ago and
three of his four unrelated dogs have died of liver failure.
"I would ask you two questions: first, if I invited you
to my home to discuss PFOS issues and I offered you a nice tall
glass of water from my faucet would you drink it? Second question
is just how many tall glasses of water do you think I gave to
my wife, my children and my dogs over the last 30 years,"
Applegate told Case that she is concerned about his story and
that PFC contamination is a priority.
At the end of the hearing, Sen. John Marty told the committee
he's not sure what the next step will be on the PFC issue. The
Legislature doesn't have authority over the MPCA policies.
But even if lawmakers can't do much beyond holding hearings on
the matter, there may be other efforts underway. Fardin Oliaei
told the committee that she recently found out that the federal
EPA has opened a criminal investigation on the PFC issue.
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